Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Around the Blog in 80 Seconds

Help Wanted:
The T4G guys are looking for help connecting pastors and mapping connections.

Thinking Deeply About God:
The folks at NA have made available Bruce Ware's address “Equal in Essence, Distinct in Function: The Roles and Relations of the Trinitarian Persons of the Eternal Godhead”. They're listed some other good recommendations for resources for "exploring God." See here.

Engaging the Culture
While at NA check out Ricky Alcantar's interview with Nathan Sasser called "The Clash." It's an exploration of the Christian's responsibility re: the culture.

Said at Southern has a podcast interview with Russel Moore called "On the Gospel, Culture and Evangelism." I appreciate Moore's clear-mindedness and courage in things I've read or heard from him. Looking forward to listening this this one as well.

Sinners or Saints?
Cerulean Sanctum is contemplating the tendency of Christians to blur the distinctions between sinners and saints, and perhaps failing to recognize all that Christ does in our redemption.

Thank You
A couple of fellow bloggers (Unashamed Workman and Said at Southern) have kindly mentioned Pure Church among their list of blogs that have been helpful. I just wanted to say thank you to those saints and give the Lord of glory all the praise for anything that He chooses to use from this blog in encouraging others. And I'm thankful that brothers who have really encouraged and helped me have likewise been encouraged here. "As iron sharpens iron...."

Monday, July 30, 2007

John Stott's Final Exhortation to Be Like Jesus

John R. W. Stott is a towering figure in the Christian world. The Lord has undoubtedly impacted an innumerable number of pastors, churches and Christians through his sermons, books, commentaries, articles and so forth.

At age 86, Stott is retiring from public ministry. He delivered his final public exposition on July 17th at Keswick. You can get the talk here (HT: UA). Appropriately, Stott exhorted his audience to be more like Jesus. It's an appropriate topic for one who has dedicated decades to teaching others to follow the Master and written excellent books like The Cross of Christ and The Incomparable Christ. The Christian Post also covered the address and Stott's career here (HT: Pastorblog.com). I pray that all of us finish so well and labor so fruitfully for decades should the Lord tarry.

If you're new to the ministry of Stott, you might start by checking out the website of the Langham Partnership.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Misdirected Kindness

Last night the elders at FBC gathered for dinner. It was a wonderful time of fellowship. As we discussed various things, one of the brothers, Hedley Robinson, very astutely pointed out that many of the problems that persist in our personal spiritual lives stem from "misdirected kindness"--the tendency of people to be "kind" to others when the proper, loving and kind response is something we tend to think of as unpleasant.

I've been meditating on Hedley's comment since he made it last night. It's a powerful and helpful truth. I have often extended a misguided kindness to others when the better thing would have been to speak a word of correction or rebuke. And I have not doubt that others have done to same to me when I've been wrong. We've entered into a conspiracy of smiling omission, and we've forgotten that word of God that speaks to us as sons: "Better is open rebuke than hidden love" (Prov. 27:5).

This conspiracy maintains that "apparent, polite kindness is better than open, transparent rebuke or correction." Indeed, when we participate in this conspiracy we makes ourselves enemies of sorts. "Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses" (Prov. 27:6). Isn't it easier to multiply kisses in the guise of politeness and kindness than to wound? Yet it's in the wounding that we prove ourselves friends. There is no virtue in smothering our brethren with platitudes while simultaneously watching a creeping, cancerous sin grow over their souls. A friend is willing to wound, because sometimes you have to drain some blood in order to help the poison exit the body.

Our fear of man keeps us from loving this way very often. We say to ourselves, "I don't really know them that well," as though long, intimate friendships are the only sufficient grounds for "speaking the truth in love." Actually, it's probably better in many instances that we don't know someone well when we have to speak a word of correction. We are often freer from the temptation of misguided kindness than that bosom buddy of 20 years who may caveat and rationalize every issue alongside his/her friend.

Other times we say, "I don't want to lose the friendship with an unkind word." Here we see that our misguided kindness is often masking selfishness and personal desires. We sometimes care about our needs and our reputations more than we care about our friends'. Again, proving ourselves not to be friends but foes of a sort.

And in the gathered church, the place where misdirected kindness will surface with great vigor is during the sobering business of church discipline. My guess is that most people who oppose church discipline do so primarily because they have come to think of this kind of correction as "mean," unkind and unloving. They have a correct leaning toward empathy, tenderness, and pursuing love. That's good. But those good qualities may be warped and twisted by failing to realize that every "kindness" (often confused with permissiveness) and "patience" (sometimes better known as inaction) isn't truly kind or patient.

It is Jesus who tells us in Matt. 18:15-17 to correct a brother who sins against another, first by going to the brother 1-on-1, then taking witnesses, and if he will not listen, then taking it to the entire church. It's Jesus that says, "If he refuses to listen even to [the church], treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector."

No one has been more kind than Jesus. God "expressed... his kindness to us in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:7). "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy" (Titus 3:3-5). The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ultimate demonstration and vindication of the kindness of God. Christ has been so kind as to shed His blood for sinners. So, we're to trust that when He tells us to discipline each other such discipline is consistent with his blood-shedding kindness on Calvary's cross. Ultimately, it's the wounds that this Friend received on our behalf that reveals true kindness. How can we fail to practice the genuine kindness of correction in view of the Son of God's death on our behalf and for our redemption?

Let our kindness be directed by the Savior's cross and by the word of God. By our misdirected kindness we're killing each other softly.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

We Told You So

Researchers (a classification that supposedly lends credibility to any statement) have apparently come to the conclusion that human beings come from one source. In a July 19th article in Nature, a team of British researchers at Cambridge University report that by combining global genetic variations in humans with 6,000 skull measurements across the world they have proven that humanity originated in sub-Saharan African from a single parent. The researchers argue that their genetic study rules out the possibility of multiple origins for the species and rules out the possibility of origins other than sub-Saharan Africa. In a strange twist of eugenic fate, turns out the size of the skull does have something to do with the people of the world: we all come from one parent.

Didn't God tell us this a long time ago?

Christ's Work for Us

On Nov. 28, 1751 Jonathan Edwards wrote a letter to a Lady Mary Pepperrell. Lady Pepperrell had recently lost a son and Edwards wrote to offer Christian comfort. For my money, Edwards is at his best when he meditates on the person and work of Christ. In the middle of his letter to Pepperrell, his thoughts land on the work of Christ for us. Here's an excerpt quoted from A Sweet Flame: Piety in the Letters of Jonathan Edwards.

It is a work of love to us, and a work of which Christ is the author. He loveliness and his love have both their greatest and most affecting manifestation in those sufferings, which he endured for us at his death. Therein, above all, appeared his holiness, his love to God, and his hatred of sin, in that, when he desired to save sinners, rather than that a sensible testimony should not be seen against sin, and the justice of God be vindicated, he chose to become 'obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.' Thus, in the same act, he manifests, in the highest conceivable degree, his infinite hatred of sin and his infinite love to sinners. His holiness appeared like a fire, burning with infinite vehemence against sin. At the same time,... his love to sinners appeared like a sweet flame, burning with an infinite fervency of benevolence. It is the glory and beauty of his love to us, polluted sinners, that is an infinitely pure love. And it is the peculiar sweetness and endearment of holiness, that it has its most glorious manifestation in such an act of love to us. All the excellencies of Christ, both divine and human, have their highest manifestation in this wonderful act of his love to men--his offering up himself a sacrifice for us, under these extreme sufferings. Herein have abounded toward us the riches of his grace, 'in all wisdom and prudence' (Eph. 1:8). Herein appears his perfect justice. Herein, too, was the great display of his humility, in being willing to descend so low for us. In his last sufferings appeared his obedience to God, his submission to this disposing will, his patience, and his meekness, when he went as a lamb to the slaughter, and opened not his mouth, but in a prayer that God would forgive his crucifiers. And how affecting this manifestation of his excellency and amiableness to our minds, when it chiefly shines forth in such an act of love to us. The love of Christ to men, in another way, sweetens and endears all his excellencies and virtues; as it has brought him in to so near a relation to us, as our friend, our elder brother, and our redeemer; and has brought us into an union so strict with him, that we are his friends, yea, 'members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones' (Eph. 5:30).

We see then, dear Madam, how rich and how adequate is the provision, which God has made for our consolation, in all our afflictions, in giving us a Redeemer of such glory and such love, especially, when it is considered, what were the ends of this great manifestation of beauty and love in his death. He suffered that we might be delivered. His soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death, to take away the sting of sorrow, and to impart everlasting consolation. He was oppressed and afflicted, that we might be supported. He was overwhelmed in the darkness of death, that we might have the light of life. He was cast into the furnace of God's wrath, that we might drink of the rivers of his pleasures. His soul was overwhelmed with a flood of sorrow, that our hearts might be overwhelmed with a flood of eternal joy.

Around the Blog in 80 Seconds

Here is an article worth reading. A sample:

Eve’s decision is the kind I make flippantly each day, yet her fall remains one of the most pivotal actions of all history. Her dirty little secret led to the Holocaust, mass murder in Darfur, the shootings at Virginia Tech and…my quick temper yesterday.

Choices—even seemingly insignificant thoughts concealed deep in the heart--can have a more profound affect than we realize. James wrote that sin starts small as a dormant desire, then grows. “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:15) My soul, take note: “Insignificant” desires can grow to big sin. Little choices matter.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

An Update from Ohio

It's been great fellowshipping with the brothers at the Sovereign Grace Baptist Association's annual meeting. Most of the men here have been leading their local church as pastors for 25-35 years! One gentleman I've met has been in pastoral ministry for 55 years, and judging from his devotion this moring there is no sign of slowing down.

If you're interested, you can find copies of the conference addresses at the SGBA website. They also have audio available from previous years, including Michael Haykin on the Holy Spirit from 2004. Well worth the listen.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Random thoughts for the week...

I'm off this week to the Sovereign Grace Baptist Association meeting to give four talks on "Witnessing the Muslims from a Biblical Perspective." So, blogging will be light.

But I thought I'd do a post this morning with some random thoughts.

Thought #1:
Tim Challies provides photographic justification for why, even though I live on a tropical island, I don't go snorkeling, diving, and now kayaking.

Tim says that following his research, he's confident the photo is authentic. I can hear all the people now saying, "But statistically shark attack is unlikely." Yeah, but I'm certain that as soon as I enter the water, the sharks will go, "Cool, soul food! When's the last time we had any of that?!" To be totally stereotypical: this is why black people don't swim!
Thought #2:
DG's conference videos are up (HT: JT). I think that Abraham Piper is not only a web savvy technician, he's a very good marketer of good information and gospel truth.
Thought #3:
My man Wyeth has posted some classic African American gospel videos worth the listen/viewing. Sometimes music is about sentiment, place, and memory.
I wish I had better thoughts going into a four-day conference when I'm giving four talks. But that's it for this week. Let's pray the talks are more helpful! :-)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Who Is King of Your Castle?

Please pardon the chauvinist overtones of this post's title. But that's the question asked by a few researchers at Iowa State University during interview research with 72 couples. The researchers' findings suggest that wives are ruling the roost in a lot more homes that typically believed.

There are some obvious flaws in the study, including small sample size (making it impossible to generalize the findings) and no apparent controls for social desirability (the ways in which people tend to give answers they think the researchers want to hear or that make them "look good" socially).

But I wonder, those research method problems aside, whether the study might not be accurate for a good percentage of homes, including Christian homes. What do you think? Are men or women ruling the roost?

The "Heart" of the Paedo- vs. Credobaptist Matter

When I was at CHBC, I had the joy of participating in membership interviews, often sitting in as other pastors conducted them and often conducting them myself. In the last couple of months there, it seemed the Lord had me conduct all the interviews with people who struggled with believer's baptism. They were often people who had come from paedobaptist traditions and the idea of being "baptized again" (as they would put it) troubled them.

I didn't know why the Lord had me involved in so many discussions of this sort. But now that I'm at FBC, a church like CHBC that attracts people from so many backgrounds, I can see His wisdom more clearly. And I am thankful for the earlier training.

But here's what I notice. Objections to the credobaptist position runs along two lines usually. Some people have theological convictions. They're committed to a paedo perspective and are perhaps well-trained in that understanding. But, honestly, that's a minority of people I see.

The majority of people have a different objection. They are troubled in heart about what being baptized as a believer implies about their parents, earlier church affiliation, and judgment that someone is in error. In other words, they don't want to appear to be saying something critical, ungrateful, or uncharitable about their loved ones who raised them or churches they're fond of. For the majority of people I see, that's the heart of the matter.

In those cases, I'm convinced that people are helped if they can come to understand at least two things. First, the truth of Scripture should determine their feelings rather than having their feelings determine what they accept as true. We often determine what we accept as true by how this or that proposition makes us feel. If it feels difficult or disconcerting, we often reject it. If it "feels right" or acceptable, then we're inclined to accept it. The Word of God must be the locomotive's enine and our feelings the caboose. We must receive the Word of God with meekness (James 1:21), which must mean in part that we conform our feelings to the truth. That can be a slow process at times, but it is nonetheless necessary.

Second, people in this situation need to be helped to see that for many people in paedobaptist traditions the infant "baptism" is conducted with the hope of genuine saving faith to follow. They don't believe the act saves the child, but look forward with the hope of future salvation. Baptism as a believing adult, in accordance with the pattern of Scripture, is in one sense the future hoped for in that earlier rite. It does imply, on the one hand, that the earlier exercise was not a baptism and that the church and family were in error. But on the other hand, the what such situations afford is the opportunity to identify with Christ in a self-conscious way, to celebrate the saving work of Christ as it's proclaimed in baptism, to demonstrate conformity to the Word of God in baptism, and, certainly not least, to rejoice that what parents and family hoped for years ago in infant "baptism" is "fulfilled" when an adult child stands for and with Christ in conscious faith and baptism.

I don't hold to infant "baptism," obviously. But I don't think the motive and hopes of parents who do should be impugned and disregarded. And I think a number of new members to our church have been helped by knowing that and celebrating that fact that their parents' best hopes for them are fulfilled in a saving and personal knowledge of Christ, expressed in part by baptism. That lies close to the heart of the matter.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pure Church Reformer Series: Hotlanta Associate Pastor and Teacher, Anthony Carter

Anthony Carter has quickly and easily become one of my favorite people in the world. All who know him know him by that big smile, graciousness and genorosity, and an immense love for the Lord and His people. I first heard of Tony during a dinner conversation with Ken Jones, Tony Arnold, and another pastor in Washington, D.C. Someone asked, "Have you read Tony Carter's book, On Being Black and Reformed?" At the time I hadn't, but my ears shot straight up. I was intrigued. I went out, purchased the book, and devoured it. Tony has great passion for seeing biblical truth proclaimed everywhere, but especially in predominantly African-American churches. He's a reformer and I pray this interview encourages you.

1. Where are you from originally?
I was born and raised in Michigan, in the small rural and wooded community of Woodland Park. It is approximately an hour due north of Grand Rapids.

2. Were you raised in a Christian home? If so, what was your early church experience like? Tell us how you became a Christian?
I was raised in a nominally Christian home. By that I mean the Bible was there and we went to church every Sunday morning and evening. We were the proverbial church kids. My mother was the clerk of the church and directed the youth programs. So when the church doors were open we were there. However, outside of Sunday, little of Christianity was known or practiced. While my mother was in church every Sunday, I never saw my father in church one day of my life.

3. When and how did you decide to enter pastoral ministry? How long have you been in pastoral ministry?
Going into pastoral ministry really grew out of my growing conviction for the primacy of the church in God’s redemptive plan. Christ loves the church. I believe that those who love Christ should love what He loves. Thus, the pastoral ministry became more and more clear for me as I began falling more and more in love with the church.

4. How long have you been at your current church? Tell us about the church? And how has the labor gone so far?
Southwest Christian Fellowship was formed in 1985. I came to the church in 1991. My wife and I left for seminary in 1996. During my seminary years I served as an associate minister at Kingsway Baptist Church in Orlando FL. In 2001 we returned to Atlanta and began attending Southwest again. While we were in seminary, the church was a faithful supporter of ours. So, when the opportunity came to serve and give back to Southwest, it was a blessing to be able to do so.

5. You’ve accepted the necessary and wonderful role of serving as an associate pastor at Southwest. First of all, let me commend you and give God glory for men like you, who with humility and a servant’s heart are contented to use their giftedness as a co-laborer with faithful men in the gospel. But having said that, how is reform in a local church different from the associate pastor’s perch than it might be in a senior pastor’s position? What things must an associate keep in mind as he labors for reform?

Thank you. I remember reading what Spurgeon once said, “It takes more grace than I can tell to play the second fiddle well.” I don’t play second fiddle as well as I should, but whatever I am able to do, it is because of God’s grace. But to answer your question. Reform from my perch begins with support of the lead pastor. I have always felt that my first responsibility was to encourage the lead pastor in reform and preaching. I have frequently said that I don’t have to be the one preaching, as long as the one who is preaching is really preaching. Secondly, I have sought to discern between biblical truth and personal preferences. Personal preferences are not worth dying for, but biblical convictions are. Make sure that you are standing on biblical convictions and not personal preferences. Also, Robert Benson (senior pastor), as you know, is a most gracious and humble man. He makes it easy to serve with him because he genuinely seeks God’s glory and not his own.

6. How would you counsel other associate pastors who might be laboring alongside a man/men who are not reform minded?
The first thing to understand is that God already gave the church Martin Luther. If He wants another one, He’ll raise him up. Don’t spend your time presuming you are him. Commit yourself to people as much as you are to doctrine. I have found that those who are committed to people often find that those people are more open to being committed to their doctrine. Biblical doctrine is essential. Yet, we must make sure that people are seeing that these doctrines make a difference in our own lives before we can expect people to embrace them for their lives.

7. Have there been particular reform initiatives taken at Southwest? Tell us about those and how they’ve gone.
Indeed, there has been a truly gracious work of God in my life and the life of our church. It has not always been as smooth as we would have liked, but it has been a steady transition of important theological truths and their implications. One of the key elements was just getting the leaders to see that theology is inevitable. It also helps when you have written a book because people tend to know some of what you are thinking before you open your mouth. Nevertheless, we have had the pleasure of teaching through Grudem’s Systematic Theology twice. We took the elders and the deacons through the first class. Then we took our lay leaders and worship team through the next class. It proved to be the impetus for further reform, as we were able to frequently refer back to Grudem and have a common reference point for theological issues.

Also, exposing our worship team to Sovereign Grace Music and Worship Conferences has been great. While their music has a bit of a different taste than ours, it did show our team the need for a sound theological undergirding of our worship event. Reform in our worship has been most pleasing largely because of this exposure.

8. What fruit is the Lord bearing in the people of the church so far?
When you witness a Sunday School class on the Doctrines of Grace that is weekly filled to capacity and the pastors are not teaching nor attending, you know that there is fruit of God’s sovereign grace in the life of the church.

9. You also maintain an active ministry outside the local church. Tell us about those. What are you attempting to accomplish with those efforts? How do you balance efforts inside and outside the church?

Indeed, God has been gracious in giving me a ministry beyond Southwest. Frequently, my travels will take me away from my family and church, and yet like my family, I always take Southwest with me. Our church is very supportive of my ministry and will frequently allow my wife to travel with me by members of our church watching our 5 children for extended periods of time. It also gives me opportunity to expose people to the ministry of Southwest and vise versa. This has been most encouraging. And yet, with that, my itinerate ministry is third. First is my family. Second is my church. And third are conferences, retreats, and pulpit supply (My blog is somewhere down the list). With these efforts, I pray that in some small way I could cause people to see the truth of biblical, historical, experiential reformed theology. It has made such a difference in my life, I know it will make a difference in theirs.
And yet without a doubt, the only way I do what I do is because God has been gracious in giving me a wife who sees herself serving God by serving her husband and family. Robert is frequently reminding me how blessed we are to have wives like we do. I could not agree with him more.

10. As you look out over the African-American church, and the wider evangelical church world, what things encourage you?

I am particularly encouraged by God’s grace in giving us a spiritual uplift for biblical, substantial theology within this present generation. This is of particular excitement to me among African-American Christians. Thanks to brothers like yourself and those involved in the Council of Reforming Churches, God has been gracious in giving us a vision for the future that looks promising from where I stand. My children and grandchildren will have a legacy of Reformed Evangelical truth that is far more diverse than ours. Brother, it does not get any better than that!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Edwards on New Christians and Spiritual Growth, 3

This is the final segment of Jonathan Edward's 1741 letter to Deborah Hatheway. Mrs. Hatheway was converted during the Great Awakening. She wrote to Edwards seeking his counsel because her church was without a pastor at the time. Edwards responded with 19 recommendations, which Michael A.G. Haykin has edited to 17 in his introduction to the piety of Jonathan Edwards, A Sweet Flame: Piety in the Letters of Jonathan Edwards.

12. When you counsel and warn others, do it earnestly and affectionately and thoroughly. And when you are speaking to your equals, let your warnings be intermixed with expressions of your sense of your own unworthiness and of the sovereign grace that makes you differ.

13. If you would set up religious meetings of young women by yourselves, to be attended once in a while, besides the other meetings that you attend, I should think it would be very proper and profitable.

14. Under special difficulties, or when in great need of or great longings after any particular mercy for yourself or others, set apart a day for secret prayer and fasting by yourself alone; and let the day be spent not only in petitions for mercy you desire, but in searching your heart, and in looking over your past life, and confessing your sins before God, not as is wont to be done in public prayer, but by a very particular rehearsal before God of the sins of your past life, from your childhood hitherto, before and after conversion, with the circumstances and aggravations attending them, and spreading all the abominations of your heart very particularly, and fully as possible, before him.

15. Do not let the adversaries of the cross have occasion to reproach religion on your account. How holily should the children of God, the redeemed and the beloved of the Son of God, behave themselves. Therefore, "walk as children of the light" and of the day and "adorn the doctrine of God your Savior." And especially abound in what are called the Christian virtues and make you like the Lamb of God: be meek and lowly of heart, and full of pure, heavenly, and humble love to all; abound in deeds of love to others, and self-denial for others; and let ther be in you a disposition to account others better than yourself.

16. In all your course, walk with God and follow Christ, as a little, poor, helpless child, taking hold of Christ's hand, keeping your eye on the marks of the wounds in his hands and side, whence came the blood that cleanses your from sin, and hiding your nakedness under the skirt of the white shining robes of his righteousness.

17. Pray much for the ministers and the church of God, especially, that he would carry on his glorious work which he has now begun, till the owrld shall be full of his glory.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Fun with Nicknames

It's Friday! So, do what most of the world's office workers will do at some point today: enjoy some good banter on a completely trivial topic. Here's a cleverly written piece on the demise of the art nicknames in American culture. One of my favorite lines: "Over the years, our culture’s gift for nicknaming has slowly vanished along with so many of our other celebrated American skills, like nation-building and math." Ooohh... Ouch! The article is rated PG-13 for two objectionable and unflattering lines about one celeb. Otherwise, it's a good piece.

Trivial Pop Quiz (answer one of the following):

What's your nickname (if you dare!)?

Or, do you have a favorite nickname of all times?

Or, what athlete or celebrity would you re-nickname and what would it be?

Edwards on New Christians and Spiritual Growth, 2

Here is a second installment of Edwards' counsel on how to grow as a new Christian to the recently converted Deborah Hatheway. In this installment, Edwards addresses contrition, pride, how to overcome doubts, and personal revival amid spiritual decline.

7. When you engage in the duty of prayer, or come to the Lord's supper, or attend any other duty of divine worship, come to Christ as Mary Magdalen (Luke 7:37-38) did come, and cast yourself at his feet, and kiss them, and pour forth upon him the sweet perfumed ointment of divine love, out of a pure and broken heart, as she poured the precious ointment out of her pure broken alabaster box.

8. Remember that pride is the worst viper that is in the heart, the greatest disturber of the soul's peace and of sweet communion with Christ. It was the first sin committed and lies lowest in the foundation of Satan's whole building, and is with the greatest difficulty rooted out, and is the most hidden, secret, and deceitful of all lusts, and often creeps insensibly into the midst of religion, even, sometimes under the disguise of humility itself.

9. That you may pass a correct judgment concerning yourself, always look upon those as the best discoveries, and the best comforts, that have most of these two effects: those that make you least and lowest, and most like a child; and those that most engage and fix your heart, in a full and firm disposition to deny yourself for God, and to spend and be spent for him.

10. If at any time you fall into doubts about the state of your soul, in dark and dull frames of mind, it is proper to review your past experience. But do not consume too much time and strength in this way; rather apply yourself, with all your might, to an earnest pursuit after renewed experience, new light, and new lively acts of faith and love. One new discovery of the glory of Christ's face will do more toward scattering clouds of darkness in one minute, than examining old experience, by the best marks that can be given, through a whole year.

11. When the exercise of grace is low, and corruption prevails, and by that means fear prevails, do not desire to have fear cast out any other way than by the reviving and prevailing of love in the heart. By this, fear will be effectually expelled, as darkness in a room vanishes away when the pleasant beams of the sun are let into it.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Church and SCOTUS

Well, the beltway prognosticators and the heartland heavies are all reflecting on the recent SCOTUS decision striking down plans of two school districts to consider race in their enrollment plans. The reactions are completely predictable: those who like affirmative action (their term of choice) decried the decision as a roll-back of Brown and American racial progress since the 1950s, while those who dislike racial preferences (their term of choice) celebrated the decision as a decisive blow against the use of race in such decisions. Both desire (and I take them both to be sincere) a country where justice is in the best sense of the word "color blind" and where race, skin color, culture and ethnicity are not determinative of opportunity, well-being, and the like. One goal, two widely different paths, and a decision that angers some and gladdens others.

Where I Sit
Now, it doesn't really matter much what I think of the decision. My opinion is one man's. It doesn't carry any weight and it shouldn't. But, I have one, and like so much of the rest of the country, I'm inclined to share it. Here it is, simply: The decision makes me very nervous.

When I say "very nervous," I mean very nervous. It strikes at the "in-betweenness" of being African-American and "evangelical," "Christian," "conservative" and a host of other labels one might apply. It strikes at a certain inescapable identification with a real history with real triumphs and valleys. Both the triumphs and the valleys are real, and so those who've climbed the peaks and tumbled through the lows are reacquainted with both exhilaration and "the agony of defeat."

And let's face it, "the agony of defeat" is real agony. I've not fought against sin until the point of blood, but I tell ya, when I look at those who have gone before me in the fight (physical, psychological, economic and not just academic) I tend to think they've come closer than anyone else to such striving. So, perhaps I'm nervous because this decision not only conjures that history and striving but it may signal a new era... one in which I'll have to ante up and kick in like a man... and strive. Or more frightening still, an era where mine will be "the little brown girl" whose application reads in red letters "DENIED" because of the color of her skin.

None of us have come so far as to safely conclude that racial or ethnic discrimination lies well behind us... or rather, doesn't lurk in us. That makes me very nervous. Simply put, man is too depraved for anyone to rejoice over this decision as though we may safely assume its application and the reality that follows will without striving be an unparalleled success. Some of us may get what we want and find that leanness has entered our own soul and the soul of the country. So, again, I'm made nervous.

The Church
And I think in this decision a tremendous challenge is laid before the Church. As has frequently been said, the church is too often a thermometer rather than a thermostat, measuring and reflecting the temperature of society rather than regulating and setting it. I wonder how the church is reacting to this news? Are my Christian brethren who favor the decision rejoicing inside the halls of the church? Are my Christian brethren who oppose this decision planning their counter-insurgence inside the Sunday school rooms of the church? Are the indifferent aware that this has anything to do with the church?

If it's true that the church often mirrors the wider culture, what can the church expect to see in itself following this decision and the attitudes, actions, policies and implications that result from it?

Might there be more segregation? Will "whites only" and now "blacks only" and "Asians only" signs be posted over the doors of churches?

Might there be more room for "preferring our own" that makes tolerable and even desirable the continued, further, or more entrenched ethnic separation in Christianity?

What of a church's desire to pursue ethnic diversity in its membership and staffing? Will that come to be seen by well-meaning but perhaps more cultural than biblical members as a "bad" thing, impermissible by the rules of society?

How will this affect cooperation between churches? Is there more balkanization to come, as certain ethnic churches construe their missions in more ethnically singular ways?

On June 5, 1910, Dr. Francis J. Grimke delivered a sermon called "Christianity and Race Prejudice." It's a clear, categorical denouncement of the coexistence of race prejudice and Christianity. In it, he makes this observation:
Race prejudice is not the monopoly of the infidel, of the atheist, of the man of the world. It is shared equally by so-called professing Christians. The men who have been most active in promoting Jim-crow car legislation, in bringing about all forms of discrimination, in holding the race up to contempt, in saying the bitterest things against it, have not all been outside of the church: no, many of them have not only been in the church, but have held high places in it. The simple fact is, there is no appreciable difference, in the great majority of cases, in the exhibition of race prejudice, in the treatment that is accorded to people of color, between those who profess to be Christians, and those who make no profession. The fact that they are members of Christian churches, that they are professing Christians, exerts no appreciable influence over them. It is a thing entirely apart from their religion, a thing which does not involve, in the least, to them any religious principle. They do not seem to see any inconsistency between the two things. All the high, and holy principles of the Christian religion, they seem to think, have reference only to, or are in force only when they have dealings with members of their own race. It is surprising how little influence the religion of Jesus Christ has had in controlling the prejudice of men, in lifting them above the low plane upon which race prejudice places them.
I don't know how accurate Grimke's words are for churches today. I suspect that it applies in still too many cases, though much (oh, praise God, so much!) has changed. And yet, I'm nervous because there is something too "the more things change, the more they stay the same" about the recent decision and the state of the church.

I love the church. I love the royal priesthood that Christ bought with His own blood. I love that new humanity comprised of every nation, language, etc. I love that she displays to the heavens the manifold wisdom of God. I love that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, etc.

And, so, I'm made nervous for the Bride of Christ who appears to me too easily satisfied with the world's notion of ethnic progress and and the world's ethnic social rules. I'm nervous for her because already among many of my dearest brethren in Christ there is a palpable fatigue when it comes to these issues. I am nervous we'll take the easy road, the wide path, rather than the narrow and high road leading to the heavenly city and the increasing experience of it in this life. I'm nervous that too many of us will continue to mistake the easy familiarity of shared cultural background with the "natural" way things are meant to be rather than long for the supernatural way things are in Christ.

I'm not afraid... for Christ is victorious in all things, and His church will meet Him spotless with all the righteousness of His perfect sacrifice and life. Yet, this may signal (or be a reminder) to the body of Christ that our witness in this area is needed more than ever. We need to live out the accomplishment and victory of Christ in this area so that the power and hope and righteousness of the Gospel would be seen more clearly by all.

What we need now are not public celebrations or demonstrations originating with the church and Christians, but a public living out of the Gospel across the boundaries of ethnicity, gender and class in such a way as to make our unity in Christ undeniable and attractive. It's a good time to inspect our hearts and our churches.

Will the rule of the U.S. Supreme Court be overturned by the rule of Christ in His Church?

How, now, will we really live?

Edwards on New Christians and Spiritual Growth

On June 3, 1741, Jonathan Edwards wrote a letter to Deborah Hatheway. Mrs. Hatheway was converted during the awakening in New England and, since her church was without a pastor at the time sought Edwards' counsel on how to grow as a new Christian. Edwards replied in a short letter with 19 things Hatheway should think and do. The letter is reprinted Michael A.G. Haykin's A Sweet Flame: Piety in the Letters of Jonathan Edwards. For the next couple of posts, I'll quote some of the advice that Edwards give.

These first six recommendations seem to deal with the new Christian's reflection on and attitude her/his conversion and sin. It was instructive not just for new Christians but also for us old rusty ones, too.

1. I would advise you to keep up as great a strife and earnestness in religion as if you knew yourself to be in a state of nature and were seeking conversion. We advise persons under conviction to be earnes and violent for the kingdom of heaven; but when they have attained to conversion, they ought not to be the less watchful, laborious, and earnest in the whole work of religion, but more so; for they are under infinitely greater obligations. For want of this, many persons, in a few months after their conversion, have begun to lose their sweet and lively sense of spiritual things, and to grow cold and dark, and have "pierced themselves through with many sorrows." Whereas, if they had done as the apostle did (Phil. 3:12-14), their path would have been "as the shining light, that shines more and more unto the perfect day."

2. Do not leave off seeking, striving, and praying for the very same things that we exhort the uncoverted persons to strive for, and a degree of which you have had already in conversion. Preay that your eyes may be opened, that you may receive sight, that you may know yourself, and be brought to God's footstool; and that you may see the glory of God and Christ, and may be raised from the dead, and have the love of Christ shed abroad in your heart. Those who have most of these things, have need still to pray for them; for there is so much blindness and hardness, pride and death remainting that they still need ot have that work of God wrought upon them, further to enlighten and enliven them, that shall be bringing them out of darkness into God's marvelous light, and be a kind of new conversion and resurrection from the dead. There are very few requests taht are proper for an impenitent man, that are not also, in some sense, proper for the godly.

3. When you hear a sermon, hear for yourself. Thought what is spoken may be more especially directed to the uncoverted, or to those that, in other respects, are in different circumstances from yourself, yet, let the chief intent of your mind be to consider, "In what respect is this applicable to me? And what improvement ought I to make of this, for my own soul's good?"

4. Thought God has forgiven and forgotten your past sins, yet do not forget them yourself: often remember, what a wretched bond-slave you were in the land of Egypt. Often bring to mind your particular acts of sin before conversion, as the blessed apostle Paul is often mentioning his old blaspheming, persecuting spirit, and his injuriousness to the renewed, humbling his heart, and acknowledging that he was "the least of all the apostles," and not worth "to be called an apostle," and the "least of all the saints," and the "chief of sinners." And be often confessing your old sns to God, ,and let that text be often in your mind, "That thou mayest remember and be confounded, and never open they mouth any more, because of they shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord" (Ezekiel 16:63).

5. Remember, that you have more cause, on some accounts a thousand times, to lament and humble yourself for sins that have been committed since conversion than before, because of the infinitely greater obligations that are upon you to live to God, and to look upon the faithfulness of Christ, in unchangeably continuing his loving-kindness, notwithstanding all your great unworthiness since your conversion.

6. Be always greatly abased for your remaining sin and never think that you lie low enough for it. But yet be not discouraged or disheartened by it, for, though we are exceeding sinful, yet "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous," the preciousness of whose blood, the merit of whose righteousness, and the greatness of whose love and faithfulness, infinitely overtop the highest mountains of our sins.

How would you compare your counsel to new Christians to Edwards'?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Around the Blog in 80 Seconds

Anthony Carter is busting myths. First up: "Reformed theology is white." I'm looking forward to the rest of the myths he plans to debunk. Welcome back and keep 'em coming Mr. Kotter.

Russell Moore meditates briefly on "race, conscience and the spoken word." Sounds like a worthwhile book to purchase.

Lance Lewis asks the question: does it matter if our faith is true or not?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Around the Blog in 80 Seconds

Today is a national holiday in the Cayman Islands (despite there being a lot of Canadians in Cayman, it's not a celebration of Canada Day :-)). So, with a day off and the rest of the family vacationing in the U.S., I'm doing a little "spring cleaning" (on the blog, that is).
First off, a few posts that I want to point out in case folks missed them.

Tony Carter includes a photo summary of the recent Reformed theology conference sponsored in the Chicago area by the saints at New Life Fellowship Church. Our brother Lance Lewis includes ten reasons to attend next year. It was sweet communion and I'm looking forward to posting some brief reflections of my own later this week, D.V.

Speaking of Conferences, the Third Annual Miami Pastors' Conference has released its theme and speaker line up for this year. The Conference is scheduled for Nov. 8-10, 2007 and focuses on the question, "What Is the Gospel?" The speakers for this year include conference regulars Ken Jones, pastor of Greater Union Baptist Church and Tony Carter. Also joining the speaking team this year is Michael Horton of the White Horse Inn. Mark it down. It should be a great time of fellowship in the word.

Recently elected 2nd Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention, Eric Redmond, shares this brief interview with the new Dean of the Howard University Divinity School. This requires a fervent prayer initiative and thorough response. (HT: Tony Carter). While you're visiting Eric's blog, you might check out his ruminations on "Race, Presidential Forums, and Evangelicals" and the recent SCOTUS decision.

Justin Taylor has provided links to the short application interviews NA is posting from the recent conference on discernment. These short bits are a wonderful idea for furthering the conference's effect. Hats off to the person that thought this up.

Secondly, I want to make some long overdue updates to my blog links. These are blogs most are already well aware of, blogs that are adding to the spiritual lives of their readers. Enjoy if you haven't already:

1. First, a couple of group blogs that have given me the privilege of contributing from time to time. It's a joy to share with the other brothers who comment on these sites:

Church Matters, the group blog of 9Marks ministries

Council of Reforming Churches, group blog including several Reformed African-American pastors

2. Also, I'm adding the Desiring God blog.

3. My brother Mike Gilbart-Smith's blog, Loving Church, is an excellent site. He's currently listing and evaluating evangelistic websites and materials. Check him out.
4. My brother Wyeth Duncan writes thoughtful and helpful things over at A Debtor to Mercy. And what a wonderfully appropriate name for a blog--for debtors to our God's mercy we are!

Well... now I'm feeling a bit more like Mr. Clean. So... enough for now. Off to enjoy this holiday.